Anzac Day 2014. Commemorating Slaughter with a Biscuit?

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“We are about to commemorate the slaughter of millions of young men between 1914 and 1918.”

So begins John Hirst’s provocative piece on Anzac Day and its place in military history since then. Hirst recommends reading James Brown’s new book, Anzac’s Long Shadow, as well as Marina Larsson’s Shattered Anzacs for an understanding of what this legend really means:

“The hidden history of Anzac is the lives of the men who returned severely wounded and handicapped. The government supported them, but the daily burden was borne by their families.”

 Hirst suggests that:

” the second way to sidestep the commemoration of death in battle is to check out your family history for men who served and came home alive, even if damaged. The dead are commemorated in graves tended by the War Graves Commission. The tombstones of returned men usually have no mention of their war service.”

In recognition of wartime’s lost and ruined lives, those who were killed, maimed or psychologically damaged in WW1 and all subsequent wars, I perform a few rituals on Anzac Day (April 25th).

Firstly, I think of my father and his service in WW2.  On most Anzac Days, especially in his later years, he marched with his mates from his army regiment, not to commemorate Gallipoli, or the mythical values of the digger,  but in memory of the efforts of those who fought in WW2 and to recall the five years he spent in the jungles of New Guinea.  Below: My parents during wartime.

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Secondly, I play a few important tunes. I recommend that you listen to these, if you aren’t already familiar with them: Eric Bogle’s moving folk song,” And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda and  Redgum’s  I was only Nineteen,  a lyrical exploration of naive young men at war and the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam Vets.

The foundation of historical analysis is interpretation, no less so in the case of war.  As a student of Australian History in 1971, during the height of the anti-Vietnam war movement in Australia,  I became a pacifist like many of my fellow students. Consequently, concepts such as patriotism – and by extension, the Anzac Day march, and military legends surrounding the day- were seen as jingoistic and nationalistic.  Latrobe University’s history school was a thriving and intellectually exciting place to be.  I vividly recall my father being annoyed and upset at the tone of the final examination questions, and took to my copy of the 1971 examination paper with a forceful pen!  My views have mellowed since then, and so did his!

These days I think of the fallen and injured from all wars, including the current war in Afghanistan. And, like many others, I would prefer that more of the Anzac Day budget be spent on the rehabilitation of soldiers ( Have Anzac celebrations become a military Halloween?) and that the huge pool of profit from RSL ( Returned and Services League ) gambling dens be questioned.

And finally, I make a batch of Anzac biscuits, and in this activity I am unbending in the interpretation of the recipe. There will be no added chocolate, nuts or heaven forbid, quinoa!! The sugar is white, not brown. And they must be flat.  I make them as my mother and grandmother made them before me.

Image The recipe below is the one that my mother has always used and comes from the Margaret Fulton book of the sixties, who , no doubt, got it from her mother.  My mother, now 91 years old and featured in the first photo above, still makes them this way. Hers are always the best. Her hint for baking great Anzacs? Don’t use baking paper, it dries out the biscuits, and heat the oven to slightly under moderate. 

The Recipe.

Heat oven to 150c/300 f.

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 125 grams butter
  • 1 Tablespoon golden syrup ( not maple syrup)
  • 2 Tablespoons boiling water
  • 1/1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
  1. Mix the dry ingredients
  2. Melt the butter and golden syrup over gentle heat, then add the boiling water and bicarb soda. Watch it fizz.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry, mixing thoroughly.
  4. Drop heaped teaspoons onto greased trays. Flatten slightly.
  5. Bake for approx 20 minutes. (check as they cook for doneness)
  6. Cool on trays for a few minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely

Store in tins. Image For another great article on this topic from a brilliant historian, see Don Watson’s article from the Monthly, 2008.  If you can’t read it all now, save it for a rainy day.

http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2008/may/1335251549/don-watson/digging

21 thoughts on “Anzac Day 2014. Commemorating Slaughter with a Biscuit?”

  1. Lovely commentary. I see so many similarities with my own youth (around the same time, but in the USA). How right you are to commemorate the sacrifice rather the glories of war. Not being Australian, Anzac Day is something new to me. Thanks for the link to Hirst’s piece.

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  2. Thanks Deb, Anzac Day is a commemoration of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps slaughter in WW1( France and Gallipoli) but in recent years it has become a tourist circus, leading to this piece. The biscuits are made all year, but especially on April 25th.. It has been hard to write this piece, it could have gone on and on!!

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    1. Go ahead and say it, it is what so many people think. We don’t want the day to become a circus. I spoke to a friend last night whose grandfather died after he returned from WW1. Her mother was 11 years old at the time and has only recently began to talk about her childhood experiences, living with a father who was broken and shattered from the war. The grandstanding at Gallipoli often does not take into account these families who, in those days, really struggled.

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      1. I just need to find my voice and authentic words on this topic. My own father was in WW II for the USA and it contributed to his already damaged psyche, with which we struggled all our lives. A wonderful man, unable to connect to his emotions and the love others wanted to show him. To go to war, men (and women) are trained to kill. To kill. It changes a person.

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        1. It does indeed. The young men who went off to WW1 did so , not just to serve their mother country, but to stick the blade into the enemy. ( Germans, Turks) as did those from the other side. War is about killing. Although their are many fine examples of comradeship,bravery and so on, let’s not also forget that war is about killing. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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  3. A timely post Francesca. Perfect bikkies, I use the exact same formula, but replace the flour with gluten free. It makes absolutely no difference. But the real crux of your post is the national obsession with ANZAC. I too believe we should remember and move on to spending the $$$$$$ taking care of the survivors of more recent conflicts. The Vietnam War made me a politically aware young adult too, even marching in the moratoria. Seeing friends called up and coming home psychologically maimed and shamed was very sobering. Forty years later, my friends still wrestle with their demons as did my grandfather who was a sailor in the British Navy in WW1. He took his memories to the grave without any of us knowing what he’d endured. It’s only been recently that family history has given my uncle some depth of understanding about his emotionless silent father. Perhaps too few today are personally touched by the horrendous price of war to give a Remembrance Day compassionate perspective.

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    1. When I read your comment about your grandfather, I think of novels like “My Brother Jack”, sadly no longer on the reading list for the young these days.
      Family history does help in coming to terms with these big issues. Because of our ‘radicalisation’ during the Vietnam Era and participating in the various moratoriam marches, as well as knowing a few Vietnam Vets, we perhaps have to grapple a little more with the current circus approach to Gallipoli.
      .Thanks for taking the time to comment in such a personal way. I appreciate it.

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  4. I love your ANZAC biscuits – these are perfect and totally as they should be. Thanks for letting me know about your family history with ANZAC Day – we certainly owe a lot to the generation before us who had no choice but went and served anyway xx

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  5. Just read this post and found it very moving and insightful – that picture of your parents makes me sad when I hear about how their lives were so changed by war – they look so innocent and sweet. I don’t know much about my grandfather’s experiences in WWII but I have read my great uncle’s letters and they make me feel quite sad. I was so anti war when I was a student but as I’ve aged I have developed a more nuanced view of it.

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  6. I also love ANZAC biscuits and will be remembering, this week, August 5, my grandfather who was a member of the gun crew which fired the first allied shot of WW I, from Point Nepean Fort at the entry to Port Philip Bay. Both my Grandfathers returned from that bloody conflict, however, I am sure that their lives were cut short as a result of it.

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